Olaf Metzel

With American and German troops currently involved in the same military campaign, there has been considerable animated discussion in Germany about its relationship with the United States. An explicitly political artist like Olaf Metzel would be expected to take a position in this discourse; perhaps unsurprisingly, war and pop culture seem to dominate his view of America. A photograph of a burning house evokes a war scenario, but the title, Universal Studios, Hollywood, 1986, quickly makes it clear that this dramatic event was staged for the camera—whether it was for a crime show or an apocalyptic feature makes no difference. Metzel exhibited this sixteen-year-old shot to point up its relationship to today's warlike atmosphere. In his Votivtafel (Votiveboard), 1992, made of paraffin, both admiration for and disappointment with the US find expression. The board carries the names of personalities from American pop culture and politics—but quite a few letters from their names have fallen off and are stuck in the lower edge of the Plexiglas case that frames the piece; other namcs have just sagged a bit or begun to stick together. The idols seem to be losing their currency. The artist takes an unambiguous stance in his design for a large bronze: In Yankee Go Home, 2002, the familiar slogan against American occupation has been gouged with a finger on three slabs crudely joined with modeling clay, as if the artist wanted to freeze a spontaneous expression into a monument.

Other works referred to rock ‘n’ roll and comic strips. Ich kann es nicht mehr hören (I can't hear it anymore), 2001, a squashed microphone complete with cord cast in aluminum, might symbolize the intensity of a performance, or perhaps simply the stereotypical gesture of a band destroying their equipment on stage, à la the Who—in any case, it signals the end of sound transmission. To make Sprechblase (Speech bubble), 2002, Metzel milled the overdetermined form of the comic-strip convention out of marble. Form and material, sign and context contradict each other, for nothing seems less appropriate for marble, which connotes dignity and stability, than this mass-cultural symbol for the transient word. Although the curvilinear markings in the marble dearly correspond to the form of the speech bubble, their energy implies an act of violence. This aggressiveness is characteristic of Metzel's way of working, which has been manifested in numerous artistic acts of destruction. The artist is not just interested in provocation and expression but also in dismantling things analytically.

All the more surprising, then, were two large photographs showing a desolate beach. The extreme horizontal format of Strand (Kicker) (Beach [Soccer goal]) and Strand (Pferd) (Beach [Horse]), both works 2002, emphasizes the width of the view. These images—despite their depiction of touristy rather than remote beaches—communicate a stillness that is all the more astonishing coming from an artist like Metzel. Metzel claims that for him, photographs function in the same way as sketches, as sources of inspiration for sculptural arrangements. If so, then perhaps we should expect his sculpture to start taking on a more serene aspect in the near future.

Justin Hoffmann

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.